Saturday, February 9, 2013

The News Got Worse

"Life Insurance." What a peculiar term. It's supposed to convey the security of provision for loved ones when you die. But wouldn't that really be called "Death Insurance?" If it were called "Death Insurance", though, who would buy it?

I grew up believing in another kind of life insurance. It was based on the genetic makeup and lifestyle choices of each individual. That kind of life insurance had smiled upon our family; at least I thought it did. My paternal grandparents each lived to be 81 years old. My grandpa stopped smoking just a few years before he died, having accumulated decades of unfiltered Camel smoke in his lungs; still he lived over fourscore years. My maternal grandpa died young, but with an ailment that would have been treated and cured quickly given today's medical advancements. My maternal grandmother lived to age 90. On top of that, my parents' siblings all enjoyed good health and seemed destined to equal or surpass their parents' longevity.

Add to those long-life genes, my parents were both quite healthy. They worked hard, ate food they raised on their farm and were free of the vices that often negatively impact health. Now that's "Life Insurance!" I grew up believing that we were almost invulnerable to the problems that cut many lives short.

Until the day it all came crashing down.

It was 1986. Dad got tired of fighting off the discomfort caused by an obvious gall bladder problem and went to the doctor. Sure enough, that gall bladder needed to come out. The doctor, though, recommended that dad get a full physical examination. His last physical was when he got out of the Army Air Corps right after WWII. "I guess everyone should have a physical every 40 years," my dad joked. He and my mom had no way of knowing what was about to be revealed. This would lead to series of phone calls, each with information that would rock our world.

It's hard to believe, but no one had cell phones in 1986. We hadn't heard of texting. Long distance calls, though frequent in the business world, were sparse for most families: the cost was just too high. Calls in the daytime were even more expensive, and usually were made because something significant needed to be said. "The doctor found lumps on my prostate when he examined me," my dad said that spring day. "What does that mean?" I asked, anxiety creeping into my voice. "It could be cancer," came the reply, "but they need to do a biopsy to find out. Please pray!"

Full of hope for God's intervention, we started praying. At the time, I couldn't quite believe that my healthy dad could possibly have cancer. Not him. We had no cancer in the family that I could recall. Surely this would be some benign "thing" that was growing, but not the "C word." Then the news got worse...

A few days later, mom and dad called again. My heart was pumping and I was again full of hope that this would be the good news to erase the earlier tidings. "Son, I have prostate cancer." My world felt like it was crashing down. Emotionally, I was grabbing for hope like Frodo grabbing for Sam as he dangled over the flowing lava of Mt. Doom. "What does that mean, dad?" "I need to have a bone scan," he replied. "If the cancer hasn't spread, we can talk about removing it or treating it. Please pray." Now we had a new prayer target; again I pressed into hope as I sought the help of God. "Surely," I thought, "this will be the point where we discover that this isn't really so bad. Then they can treat it and the news would be optimistic again." It wasn't.

The last daytime, long-distance call permanently changed our lives. "The cancer has spread to my bones. The treatment will slow it down, but they can't stop it." Fear and doubt hung in the air as I asked, "What does that mean, dad?" I wanted to know what I didn't want to know: how long could we expect my dad to live? The doctor told him that some men lived for ten more years at this stage; some lived far less. What would happen to my dad?

We walked through that season when the news got worse every call. Dad underwent the gall bladder surgery that started the whole thing; he recovered at a rate that amazed even the medical community. As he struggled with the emotional trauma of his cancer, he had a long talk with God one night and settled it. He would trust God with his health, even as he spoke to others about what Christ had done to heal his soul and change his life when he was a young man. That prayerful time changed something deep within my dad From then on, he lived with such joy that a rumor started in their town; some thought he had been healed. He was healed! Four years later he left the pain of this world and entered heaven.



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