This past Sunday was a very special day in the life of our church and family. It was Baptist Men's Day, and for this year's service, my Dad was asked to share his testimony. I was so proud of him as I listened to him share about the difficulties that he has experienced over the last two years, but also about the joyous contentment that he has in Christ. I was brought to tears as I watched my father share from his heart, not only about his fears but also about his faith. I'm so thankful for the spiritual and godly legacy I have in my Daddy.
In addition, my heart was filled to overflowing when Nathan and Natalie wanted to stay in "big church" (instead of going to Children's Church) so that they could "hear Grandpa talk about Jesus." As I watched them listen to him speak, I couldn't help but think of the verse in Deuteronomy 4:9, when God is talking to His people: "Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that YOU DO NOT FORGET the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. TEACH THEM TO YOUR CHILDREN and to THEIR CHILDREN AFTER THEM" (emphasis mine)."
I have watched my Daddy closely over the last two years, and I have seen him on good days and bad. He has never once complained, and has been an encourager to all those around him. He has clung to Christ and found his joy in Him, despite health, financial, and emotional difficulties. And on Sunday, he taught his children and their children; spiritual heritage if there ever was one. May you be blessed by his testimony as much as I was:
And just in case you are not able to watch all three parts (about 20 minutes total), here is an almost-complete transcript:
It is a JOY for me to be here with you this morning. I love to see all of your smiling faces. I see a few visitors that have come to support me this morning. Thank you for coming.
I would like to start with a word of prayer. Let’s go to the Lord:
Father, I thank you for this beautiful day. Thank you for this time when we can gather to worship you. I would ask that you would help me share the many blessings that you have provided me and that everything that I say and do be honoring to you. I ask this in the precious name of Jesus, Amen.
When Jamie asked me to share my testimony, I asked him how long I would be speaking. He said that it is Baptist Men’s Day and I could go as long as I wanted, but there was an evening service that did start at 7:00pm. You don’t need to worry, I am just hoping my feet, legs and back hold out for 20 minutes…so you are safe.
If you have your Bible, please turn with me to Philippians 4, verse 11. This has become one of my favorite verses as I have lived my life with cancer these past two years. This is from Paul’s letter to the church in Phillipi. He was in prison at the time of this writing:
11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
13I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
Seven years ago, I spoke up in the sanctuary on Baptist Men's Day. On that day I shared the importance of being an encouragement to those around you.
Seven years ago, this was the scenario:
· I was CEO of a small software company at RTP
· I had one daughter, Tara, married to a preacher
· My other daughter, Leah, and my son, Nick, were in college
· This building was just in the planning stages
· Jamie and Tara did not have any kids. Zero
Anyone Remember? A lot has changed in seven years!
Two years ago, my world was turned upside down. In late 2009, I was having back problems…..lower back pain that the doctors and chiropractors all said it was a degenerative disk disease, a common condition that comes on as we age..... I was not improving, so my orthopedic doctor recommended an MRI,…..which I had on January 4th, 2010.
I remember Linda and I being in the orthopedic doctors office here in Wake Forest, on a Tuesday morning when we first heard the words “PRIMARY TUMOR, ABNORMAL CELLS and BONEMARROW CHANGES”, The doctor also used some other unfamiliar terms: Lymphoma, Leukemia, Myeloma….he did not know exactly what it was, so he scheduled a biopsy a week later.
By the time we left his office, we were pretty certain that I had some sort of cancer. Two days after this appointment, and having shared my condition with my employer, my job was terminated and I was told my services were not longer needed.
Cancer, such an terrifying word……by a show of hands, how many here have cancer or have had someone in their family diagnosed with some form of cancer?……Each of you know how it can change your life in an instant.
Overnight I had gone from an executive in a small company with a stable income and a ‘normal’ life to someone who was unemployed and in for the fight of my life with cancer……Linda and I knew a bit about cancer….we had lost Linda’s dad only seven months before and knew first hand all the trials and tribulations cancer treatment. I remember Linda and I returning home and making a list of all the things we were going to have to address:
· How do we tell our kids and family?
· Could I ever work again,
· Could we stay in our home?
· Could we afford insurance?
· What was the outlook for my cancer
· What about the future?
Linda and I began earnestly asking the Lord to guide us, to help us, and to let us be an example to others of how to handle a situation when life throws you a curveball. Needless to say, the Lord had already been working on our behalf. As we awaited the biopsy results, our own Cindy Coats, a lymphoma survivor, was talking to Linda one night and said “If you ever need a hemotolgy oncologist, you have to call Dr. Kritz”. When the biopsy revealed a tumor called a plasma cytoma, my doctor asked if I had an oncolgist. I looked at Linda with a blank stare and she cooly said “We’d love it to be Dr. Kritz”.
The very next afternoon, we were sitting in Dr. Kritz’s examination room. He is recognized as a leading oncologist, and one of the top 100 doctors in America. It is hard to get on his calendar….but the Lord had miraculously opened up a window for us. Dr. Kritz spent over 2 hours with us that afternoon, immediately doing a bone marrow biopsy, and ordering bloodwork, long bone x-rays, urinalsys, vaccines and radiation for my tumor.
So, on January 29th, 2010, exactly two years ago today, the test results were back and Dr. Kritz told me that I have Multiple Myeloma. MULTIPLE MYELOMA. Multiple Myeloma is a blood cancer that affects 20,000 people in the US each year. The bone marrow ends up making abnormal plasma cells that multiply out of control causing lesions or tumors that destroy the bones. Unfortunately, at this time, it is not curable but treatable.
In my case the Myeloma had already destroyed the lower 70% of my sacrum. The sacrum is that bone on the lower part of your spine that connects the backbones to the pelvis. The top portion of the sacrum is the load bearing bone that transfers the weight of your upper body to your legs.
The lower part, the part in my case that was destroyed, is the part that shields all the nerves of the lower half of your body from any upward or twisting pressure…..like when you bend or sit.
In short, I can’t sit or bend. Many of you have seen me laying down or walking there in the back ….it’s because I can’t sit up here with you…..believe me, I would much rather be sitting up here with you than laying down and looking at the back of your heads!
By the time March of 2010 rolled around, I had already had a dozen or so radiation treatments, had a infusion port installed, was on chemotherapy and daily pain medicine. The pain in my lower back and legs was increasing. On March 29th, the siatic nerve pain was so intense in my back and legs that I could not get out of bed. Linda called 911 and the Stony Hill Fire Department transported me to Rex hospital.
For the next 26 days, I was unable to get out of the hospital bed. I had daily radiation and chemo treatments as the doctors tried eveything from morphine to snail toxin to relieve the pain. Nothing worked. A friend commented then that perhaps the Lord had put me on my back so all I could do is look up to Him……so true. The doctors were out of solutions….however, Linda and I learned of the many people that were praying for me….believers in North and South Carolina, Tennesee, Georgia, Florida and even in Africa. This church body and others were also praying for me.
And the Lord answered those prayers. On the 27th day, a young physical therapist helped me out of bed. I was up, learning to walk again and I came home on the 31st day.
An additional difficulty with walking is the nerve damage done by the chemo drugs. This nerve damage, called neuropathy, usually affects the feet and hands. In my case, the drug damaged the nerves so that both feet are completely numb with severe tingling and false pains, making walking difficult.
This church body has stood with me and my family constantly over the last two years. I cannot say thank you enough. Your prayers are felt every single day as I work to recover.
The Lord has continued to sustain me through this trial:· He was working on my behalf before I even knew we had cancer.
- He was with me everyday in Rex hospital…granting his comfort and peace
- He was with me every trip to the cancer center for radiation and chemo
- He raised up Christian friends to host a fund raiser for me in July 2010 that allowed us to stay in our home
- He was with us for my Stem Cell Transplant in August 2010 at Duke.
- He was with us in March of last year when I had a pin placed in my upper femur to strenghten the area where the myeloma had eaten a 1 inch hole through the bone.
- He provided a loving and dedicated caregiver in my wife that has been with me every step of the way.
He continues to bless me as the medicines are working for me, my cancer is for now complete response, and with his help may I stay there. I want to continue getting stronger so that I can again serve this church. I miss teaching Sunday School, being on committees, serving as a deacon and helping with Awana.
On this journey, Linda and I have met many others, some walking with Christ and some hopelessly lost without Him. We have hopefully been an encouragement to them and a witness of how to run this race with Christ by our side. I can’t imagine battling cancer without Christ……
So when you see me with a smile, or you see me “looking good today”, it is because as the verse says: I am content. I am content that the Lord he has equipped me with whatever I need to walk in this world. He has raised up many friends and family that continue to pray for me and to be there when I need something. I am content whatever the circumstances because it is the Lord who gives me strength to carry on, to count my blessings and to serve Him in any way I can.I love you, Daddy! Thank you for exhibiting contentment in Christ, despite all circumstances. I am so very proud of you.
I am not content because I have cancer, I’m content with Christ.
Let us pray: Lord help us be content. Help us to be aware of the many many blessings that you bestow on us. Thank you for the safety you provide, the substanence you provide and the many brothers and sisters in Christ that walk with us. Lord, give us your strength to walk the good walk and fight the good fight in order to glorify you and be an example and encouragement for others in need. In your Holy name, Amen."