Life stories—we all have one! “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). In a way, this is Jesus’ life story for us! He also said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10b NIV).That explains the “why” of His story: So that we may have life to the fullest!
Dear reader, the following represents a few pages from my life’s story. The former verse happens to be my personal confirmation verse (though it and all scripture are meant to be personal for each of us). Both verses have been and continue to be a blessing for the story of my life—including a few “pages” which may appear bad or otherwise. Here are a few of those “otherwise” pages:
In August of 2003, just a month after accepting a call to St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, Winona, Minnesota, I felt a little lump in the side of my throat. My newfound doctor did a biopsy and said, “I’ve got good news and bad. The bad is, it’s cancer! The good is, we think we can get it all!” Basically, what I had was esophageal squamous cell carcinoma cancer—a lump in my throat the size of a golf ball. Though shocked, I still really thought this was only going to just be a bump in the road. After all, I had never been in a hospital bed—only by its side for my parishioners. Physically, I was very active, my health good, and I was only 52 years old. So I thought, No problem! Seven weeks of chemo and radiation and I’ll be back in the saddle! Little did I know!
After those seven weeks, I was so weak I couldn’t open the hospital door! I had to depend on my loving wife, Jody, for nearly everything. She epitomized what a good wife was in keeping the part of her vow “to love, honor, and cherish, in sickness!” (Dependency. That’s a refining experience we don’t often think of!)
In August of 2005, I had to resign my call from St. Martin’s. That was devastating! Equally hard was hearing that, after those seven weeks of treatment, there were still some “gray areas.” I was then given the option: let it go and watch it, or have it cut out—throat surgery. I chose the latter, and part of my tongue and right side neck were removed.
Breathing became a big problem. At night Jody would have to pound my back in order to get me to breathe. Often, I’d lose control of my bladder and/or pass out. It got to the point where I had no choice but to get what I hated most—a trachea. But once I got it, it felt so good to breathe normally again. (That experience reminded me of how I took such a basic gift of God for granted.)
Side effects included loss of voice, loss of swallowing (couldn’t eat except with a feeding tube), fibrosis (a hardening of the tissue in my neck limiting head movement and tilting my head downward), loss of strength and muscle mass to my right arm from severed nerves, headaches, an overabundance of saliva, and cold hands and blue fingers from poor circulation.
One of my doctors encouraged me to write about my experiences. Journaling can sometimes lead to its own good news-bad news situation. Bad news: you can take your focus off Jesus and others and look only at yourself with a pity party as the result! The good news: you can get a real true picture of yourself, especially when God turns up the heat in His refining fire kiln—though what you see is not always good!
I began to feel like—and compare myself to—Job. Presumptuous? For sure! My suffering was nowhere near his! The Bible says Job never cursed God, but he did blame God. It was though he was asking that question we all seem to ask at times of fire-testing: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” For Job, he understood he was a sinner (like us all), but he also thought the “punishment” didn’t fit the crime!
I truly believe we all have our Job experiences, each one according to the level of faith given to us by God. A faith and level He knows even better than we. We are never told, exactly, what Job’s painful sores were! They sound somewhat like leprosy. Had they been leprosy, and had Job been a priest instead of a rancher, that would have disqualified him from the priesthood. The enemy used that thought with me when I had to resign my call. Not only did I feel “unclean” with my fellow pastors, parishioners, and friends, but also with my family.
I was often asked, “Why? Why did God give, or allow you to have cancer?” Everyone has their cross, and everyone has their story of how God has worked in their lives. It is these stories we need to tell each other, especially those we love. (And also those to whom God gives us opportunity to speak with, such as you, dear reader, right now.) The Bible says, in Proverbs 3:12 (NIV), God “disciplines those he loves.” And, in John 9:2-3 (NIV), the Pharisees ask Jesus, “‘who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.’” So for me, if I got cancer because God is disciplining me, He loves me. If I got it to display His power and glory, that’s a good thing too! A win-win either way!
You know, Job never did get his “why do bad things happen to good people” question answered—he didn’t need to! God made it known to Job, just as He does to you and me, through His Word and Spirit that He who created all things in this world, including life—and especially us, His crown jewel—ever loves, ever provides for, and ever walks with us daily, as we record our life’s book. And regardless of “bad” pages, God is ever with us and, as His promise says, is working all things for good. This is the good stuff which makes up a truly full and abundant life!
Rev. Kath is the author of “Conquering Cancer through Faith in Christ.” To receive his daily “Pearl’s Devotions” and learn more about his books, writings, sermons, songs, and more go to www.missioncentral.us or 18.104.22.168/lylekath/web/index.php or email him at email@example.com.