Dear Family and Friends,
I apologize in advance for the long post, but I want to share some recent news in our lives that the Lord is unfolding. This past Wednesday, after a series of appointments and a CT scan, we received word from my doctor that I have a probable case of lymphoma. We are preparing for follow up appointments with a surgeon and oncologist in the next two weeks for a clear diagnosis and a treatment regimen. I’m probably three or four weeks away from starting some form of treatment.
At this point we know very little, but let me share the good news. This is probably Hodgkins Lymphoma, which is both treatable and survivable. Other than some swollen lymph nodes and a small soft-tissue mass just below my sternum, I have no other symptoms. No pain, no high blood counts, no discomfort, nothing whatsoever that would indicate that I’m sick.
In the past couple of days, the Lord has truly gone before us in more ways than I can recount. But in the rest of this post, rather than focus on the news, I want you to know how we are responding as a family to this trial…
First, We See This as a Golden Opportunity
Job said in Job 23:10, “But he knoweth the way that I take: when He hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Believe me, I’m the first to know that there is nothing good about me. (Frankly, God knows everything about me, and He’s been exceedingly patient and gracious to let me live this long.) But I do know that God wants to use this trial to do something golden in my life and in my family’s life. From the first night, when we met as a family and prayed together, I taught the kids that trials are golden opportunities—like God loaning us a very precious treasure. This is something we desire to steward, to use to influence others for Christ, and to allow God to purge and work in our own lives to make us more like Himself.
Second, We See This as a Gracious Opportunity
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “And he said unto me, my grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” God’s grace is truly amazing! And nothing in life can compare to knowing Christ personally and knowing that we are right where He has ordained. From before the doctors spoke with us, I have experienced that “peace which passeth all understanding,” which can only come by God’s grace. Please do not worry for us. In the past two days, we have enjoyed our lives, laughed together, and experienced the same wonderful family life that we normally do. This trial has given our whole family a fresh opportunity to know God’s grace and see Him at work personally. It’s been pretty amazing!
The hardest part of this whole thing has simply been telling people. Others are sorrowing more than I am… and it’s hard to put that on people. Personally, I’m not worried, scared, nervous, or shaken. I’m intrigued by what God is up to. I’m focused on honoring Him and trusting Him. I’m confident that whether by life or death, He is accomplishing His purpose for me. I’m eager to know where I’m headed for treatment. I’m determined to fight this because I know my family is counting on me. But I’m not sorrowing, despairing, or in any way discouraged by this. And that’s just God, not me.
Third, We See This as a Growing Opportunity
Most people go through life hoping something like this won’t happen. The noise of life makes it easy to ignore death and live like it’s never coming. Biblical living is different. It begins with the end in mind and expects the unexpected. God teaches us that trials are a part of His plan, and He promises to sustain us through them. For that reason, I look back very thankful for the life God has given, the experiences, the decisions, etc. with no regrets. In 20 years of ministry, I feel that God has given me 40 years of blessings!
I look ahead knowing that we will grow through this and confident that, whatever the outcome, He is working all things together for our good. He is very, very, very good. And it seems that this trial has cleared away the fog of life just enough to more clearly reveal the brilliant glow of His unbelievable goodness. I know, by human logic, this doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. I see God’s goodness more clearly now than I did a few days ago.
Our family has only had a few trials over the years, and I’ve always known that sometime, somehow, God would allow something like this in our lives. I am humbled that He would allow me to serve Him, and that He would allow me to have a trial through which I may glorify Him more.
Here are a few thoughts on how we plan to move forward:
We Will Move Forward with Purpose
Years ago, God called me to serve Him. This is His purpose for our family, and we embrace that purpose in this trial as well. We have determined, in prayer as a family, that we will do three things: Love God, trust God, and live for God for the rest of our lives. This is our declaration—our hearts are fixed. For a long time, I have asked the Lord to allow my life to be His message. In this time, we want to continue declaring God’s message and living to serve, encourage, and influence others to Christ and for Christ.
We Will Move Forward with Joy
I’m a happy person. I like to laugh. I enjoy joking around, even about this trial. As a family, we like to enjoy life. And we intend to continue that spirit, by God’s grace. While we are praying for healing and health, we are also prepared to rejoice in whatever circumstance God places us. We have rejoiced these past three days. Literally, we have laughed and enjoyed ourselves as a family. I have done the same with co-workers and staff with whom I labor. I want others to be completely comfortable with our trial and in our presence. I want to be an encourager to others around me.
We Will Move Forward with Reality
I realize that death is a serious matter, so don’t take me wrong on this point. Death doesn’t scare a Christian. And let’s face it, in this situation, death is a possibility. But in reality, death is always a possibility for everybody. I refuse to go forward in denial or to lead Dana and the kids into denial. I’m not trusting the power of positive thinking. I’m trusting the power of God, and leaving the outcome up to Him. I recognize the very real possibility that my days are fewer than I expected—but in reality, that’s always the case. I just have a fresh realization of it. If God allows me to live—I will live for Him and thank Him for a longer life. If God takes me early, then I will go with a great attitude, and declare His message as long and loud as I can between now and then. Either way, as a family, we will hope and pray for healing, but prepare for ultimate healing if that’s what God chooses.
As this sickness unfolds, I will step back and live life through the lens of God’s highest priorities. But understand, while we will not focus unnecessarily upon death, we will not ignore its possibility either. We simply will not be intimidated by it. In living, pray that I can teach others how to live biblically. If by dying, pray that I can teach others how to die biblically. It’s that simple. And for a Christian—either way, it’s a WIN!
We Will Move Forward with Rest
A couple of people have suggested to me that an immune system illness could have been created by stress or a schedule that was too busy. For the most part these are people unfamiliar with my schedule or stress level. I want to assure you that this isn’t the case. I don’t experience much stress in my life, and normally, I get 7 or 8 hours of sleep each night. I couldn’t ask for a better staff who labor with me and share the workload. My blood pressure has never been high. For the past 20 years I’ve simply been living out God’s call and purpose. Even doctors have told me this illness is not in any way connected to my diet or lifestyle. No legitimate medical evidence suggests such.
That said, first, we are resting in God’s grace. Second, please know that we are committed to doing whatever the doctors suggest in the form of rest and recovery from upcoming treatments or surgeries. There’s no question about this. We will follow medical experts in this matter. And we will be sure to get extra time as a family both before, during, and after treatments (which will probably be 6-12 months).
As a side note, there are a couple of ways God has prepared us for this. First, several months ago, I was compelled to begin an exercise routine for 30 minutes per day. (This is really out of character for me, so I know this was the Lord’s prompting.) Over the last three months I’ve gotten in shape, which has probably better prepared me for chemo. Second, in working towards a masters degree, I’ve been spending about an hour each day in the Psalms studying. WOW! Talk about a crash course for trial preparation. This truly has reminded me of God’s ways in trials. Looking back on my time in the Psalms, it’s almost like God called me to His side a couple of months ago and said, “Stay closer to my heart, you’re going to need this soon.” What a great God!
We Will Move Forward with Support and Prayer
Already we have hundreds of church family, pastors, family, and friends from around the world who are praying for us and letting us know. No wonder God has given us such a joy and peace in the middle of this strange reality. Our pastor left our home a few moments ago after visiting with us and praying with us. The staff at church has already expressed an overwhelming amount of support and encouragement. On and on it goes. So many of you have called, texted, or emailed… prayers, verses, thoughts. Thank you! It’s pretty amazing to have people who love us that much! God has given us a very large family!
I want to wrap up with a few important thoughts.
First, I ask you to pray for some friends of mine who are going through worse trials and who need your prayer probably even more than we do. My cousin Dean is fighting colon cancer at age 46 and his children are very young. Pray for Dean and his family. Second, my buddy Larry Chappell, who works with me in youth ministry, is on the upside of his cancer battle which began a year ago. He is in remission, but continue to pray that he will stay healthy and strong. Third, several young people in our youth group have very sick or struggling parents. It’s difficult to see our teenagers with these types of trials. Finally, a friend of mine in North Carolina named Tommy has been struggling for several years with lung cancer. He’s a great man!
Second, I want you to know my heart’s desire. I want God’s will. I want to finish my course with joy. When I pray for healing and life, it is primarily because I know my family needs me. I want to make the most of every single day that God gives me between here and Heaven, and I want to continue to cherish every moment and every relationship!
Third, I want you to pray for my family more than you pray for me. I know this will be harder on Dana and the kids, so don’t you dare pray for me without praying for them TWICE! And please don’t worry about me. I’m not needing to work up some false, fake confidence or pretend that I’m fine emotionally. I really am. I want you to rest in knowing that my spirit is restful, refreshed, and content. Jesus Christ makes that a reality.
Finally, if you happen to read this and don’t know Christ as your personal Saviour—write me. I would love to help you understand how a person can look death in the face and be ok with it. It’s not about religion. It’s all about a relationship… and you can have that relationship today if you would like!
Thanks for praying for us. I will post an update when we have more information. And thanks for taking time to read this ridiculously long diatribe!
Praying that God will be honored in all,