Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Painful Night, Glorious Day

It was a message from a friend last weekend that nudged me; I had started telling the story of my prostate cancer journey and left it hanging there. The press of ministry in recent weeks focused my writing on more current events in the life of our church. That's good for those who are around me all the time, but many of my friends have been left to wonder where this has led. Questions like, "How are you doing?" are still frequent. One friend was visiting recently from out of state. She showed up in my office, sat down and said, "I had to stop by while I'm in town to see for myself that you're all right." Consequently, I will pick up the story where a left off a few weeks ago.

September 11 is a date indelibly printed on our brains. For me, September 11, 2012 became another significant day. I arrived for my biopsy in Phoenix that afternoon with a very positive attitude. "I think you have only a 10-15% chance of prostate cancer," the Dr. had told me, "and if you do have it, we have caught it very early. We will have options about how to attack it." Prostate biopsies are no fun, but they are a small price to pay for the critical information that will help save your life. The discomfort from mine lasted a day or two, but I had a greater concern on my mind: the pathology results I would receive about a week later.

The day I was told to call in about biopsy results happened to be the middle day of the annual offsite our church staff takes. Those offsites have become mission critical to us at Stone Ridge and I love them. We laugh, sometimes cry, rejoice, analyze and make plans for the following year. The entire trajectory of our church has become very focused because of these events. That meant I had to keep my head in the game, though I planned to call the urologist late in the afternoon.

We took a break about 4 p.m. and I stepped outside our meeting room. I punched in the number, praying for God to help me if the results came back positive. Heart pounding, I touched numbers on the keypad, working my way the urologist's phone tree. Finally able to speak to someone, I identified myself and asked for my doctor's assistant. "She isn't available," came the reply, "but I can give you the results if you would like."

"Please," I said, trying to remain calm.

A moment later she was back, saying with a clinical voice, "Your results came out positive for prostate cancer. Your Gleason score is... You can go on the internet to help you interpret what this means." I thanked her, hung up and called Cathy, who was at home.

"I have prostate cancer," I said as Cathy greeted me. "The tests came back positive." I must have sounded more calm than I felt (or, more likely, God's grace had kicked in) for Cathy initially thought I was teasing her in preparation for a, "Not really! I'm fine!" I assured Cathy that I wasn't joking and told her the Gleason score. We agreed that we didn't know what this all meant, then we prayed together. Cathy said that she would start contacting our kids. She would also get in touch with her family. I would contact my siblings. I didn't want to tell my mom yet because she was alone. I would wait a couple of days until my sister was in town.

I walked back in to the meeting room with our staff; it was time to reconvene. "I need to tell you guys something," I said calmly. "I have prostate cancer. I just got the lab results from last week's biopsy." Our team is very close; most of us have worked together for years. Therefore I wasn't surprised by some of the emotion they felt. We talked a bit, then they gathered around me and prayed. We all decided that planning was done for that day, but that we would have a time of worship together that night. We did. It was powerful. We were doing the best we knew to do; resting in the One who knit us together in the womb (Psalm 139). He was not surprised, nor overwhelmed by our circumstances. He had always been faithful. He still was!

The most acute pain of that first 24 hours was when I tossing and turning sometime in the wee hours of the morning. I don't know that I had slept well or at all up until then. What I remember was waking up and not being able to go back to sleep. My brain was running on overload. Finally I prayed, "Father I need a word from You. I need something to show me that You are there. I can face this if You are with me, but I can't handle it by myself." I waited quietly for only a few minutes, then the whisper of God came from deep within my spirit: "I already told you that I have this all under control; don't be afraid. I told you twice." Now sensing His presence in a very tangible way, I thanked Him and fell into a deep sleep.

Upon our return to Yuma the next morning, we met with the rest of our staff team to go over the plans God gave us for the coming year. We spoke little at that meeting about the cancer. By then I was scheduled to visit my Dr. the following afternoon. The much more immediate thing on my mind that day was a funeral I was to conduct shortly after lunch. It was for a young mom who had lost hope for repair of the brokenness in her life and committed suicide. During that service, God's presence was so real that no one left unmoved, including scores of people who don't believe in Jesus.

That funeral did someting very personal in me. It showed me that God still had a purpose for me and that prostate cancer would not define my life.