#105. Missionaries in the Mountains: A Light in Adversity

 

Photo by Amy Wallen Photography

My husband and I moved from Central Florida to become full-time missionaries in the mountains of Kentucky. God has been so faithful to us. We have many stories we could share! 

Last summer, my husband found out he had throat cancer. We prayed, “Lord, we don’t know why this has happened but let this be for Your glory. Let us be a light for You.” A line from Lauren Daigle’s song Trust in You really resonated with us: “I want what you want, Lord, and nothing else.” 

In September, my husband’s treatments were successfully completed. But on December 26, he began coughing up large amounts of blood. We went to the nearest hospital, but 5 pints of blood later we were on our way to the bigger regional hospital where he spent nine days in ICU. Thankfully, God got us over the mountain in time to receive care from the right doctor at the right hospital. 

This was such a frightening time for me, but God reassured me. I felt the Lord impress upon me these words: “He is my child. I will take care of him.” I received a peace that passes understanding, and I released my husband completely to Him. 

God answered our prayer to be a light. He gave us the opportunity to love on people. We met many hurting people in waiting rooms who needed hope. We were able to encourage and pray with them. We also had the opportunity to encourage and pray with some of the health care professionals we met during this time.

In the midst of adversity, God did more than we could ask or imagine. He provided comfort, peace, healing, provision, and many opportunities to minister to others. We are grateful.

How abundant are the good things
that you have stored up for those who fear you,
that you bestow in the sight of all,
on those who take refuge in you.

Psalm 31:19

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#99 Returning to God

 Photo by Erin E. Photography

This story is about how God healed my husband, brought good from illness, and brought together two of His children.

In 2010, Chris found a spot—which was melanoma—on his shoulder. It was removed. In 2013, the melanoma spot came back and was again removed. In 2014, he had a scan and the doctor found Stage 4 melanoma widespread throughout his body. The cancer was in his lymph nodes and a golf-ball-sized melanoma was found in his lungs. He was given only a few months to live.

It was discovered that Chris had the BRAF gene. This gene makes it more difficult for his cells to repair the damage of the sun, which led to his melanoma. Of all the specialists Chris could have gone to for care, God led us to just the right one. At the time of his diagnosis, there was an oncologist and researcher at Vanderbilt University who worked with the exact gene that Chris had and even had helped to develop the medication for this genetic problem. Vanderbilt was within easy driving distance from our home (and since this time, the oncologist/researcher has moved to a university much further away from us).

Chris was able to get an appointment with this oncologist/researcher and everything worked out just right for Chris to receive the experimental immunotherapy for the BRAF gene that was causing his problems. Even with the experimental therapy, there was a 92 percent chance that Chris would not live past a year, but it has been two years and still all the cancer is gone with no reoccurrence. The oncologist couldn’t believe it and told us that it is very rare to have complete elimination of the cancer with no reoccurrence. It is amazing. 

We are so thankful to God for Chris’s healing and continued health. We also praise God for how he used Chris’s illness for good. Chris was my first boyfriend when I was 12 years old. We remained friends but walked down different roads. Even though Chris grew up in the church, he went through a rebellious period, a time when there was no openness in his heart. The breakthrough for Chris came in 2013 when the melanoma spot was found again on his shoulder. It was at that time that he began to seek the Lord. He also moved back to his hometown in 2013. I had never left our hometown, and when he returned, I saw the change in him and that he was more open to spiritual conversation. God brought us together and we got married.

We are so thankful for what the Lord has done for us…for healing Chris, for Chris’s transformation spiritually, and for bringing us together. Throughout this experience, God has given us both physical and spiritual strength. There has been so much growth and a new perspective on life. We go to Vanderbilt every four weeks for a checkup and scan. Regardless of the future, we are confident—now more than ever before—of God’s greatness. And we are so thankful to our great God who heals us and brings good out of difficult times.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:14

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#84 Measuring Life Differently

 

Photo by Trevor Rapp

A little over four years ago, as I was sitting with my mother in the hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, monitoring her first chemo treatment for cancer, I received a very unexpected phone call. The captain of the local fire department delivered a stunning message: “I’m sorry to inform you that your house is on fire.”

I couldn’t have been more shocked. We’d only been in our new dream home for six weeks. I’d hung the final picture on the wall in the great room the previous evening.

“Thanks for calling,” I said (it felt silly to say that). “I’ll be there as soon as possible.” I hung up the phone and promptly called my wife. Fortunately she wasn’t home and neither of us had any idea as to the cause of the fire. She said she would go home immediately. I arrived about an hour later.

Driving up to the scene was a surreal experience—two fire trucks, an ambulance, and five police cars added to the trauma of it all. A group of neighbors stood on the sidewalk. We joined them as we all watched the firefighters throw our household furnishings into a large pile of charred debris just off the right side of the porch. A gaping hole in the roof, just above the fireplace, indicated the area where the fire had begun.

All of our family albums, wedding books, and baby books were in plastic containers in the basement. A single ember burned a hole in the floor in the living room and landed directly on top of the containers downstairs. Nothing else in the basement caught fire, only our most cherished possessions—family pictures and irreplaceable mementos of the past.

Darkness was beginning to converge and I realized we had nowhere to go and no clothes other than what we had on. I called a nearby hotel and explained the situation. An hour later we were guests there, room 106.

It took six months to rebuild, as we navigated from one hotel to another, one apartment to another. Here’s what I learned on the journey.

The things we think are permanent…aren’t.

God is permanent. He never left us, never forsook us, or let us down—not once.

Some things are unexplainable. We should save our easy answers for math problems, not human suffering.

It could’ve been worse. We could’ve been sound asleep when the fire started. We could’ve been killed.

People are wonderful. So many neighbors and friends called and offered assistance, even inviting us to move in with them.

Our stuff isn’t as important as we think it is. Sometimes it takes a catastrophic loss to truly understand that.

God can redeem anything.

A year later, my mother passed away from her two-year struggle with cancer. Nine months later I was diagnosed with cancer…just six weeks after I began a new job. After surgery and two years of treatments, I’m now cancer-free. God has been at my side through the entire journey.

Shortly after my diagnosis, my wife and I were walking in our neighborhood on a lovely autumn evening. As we walked, she said, “I can’t believe my husband has cancer.”

I stopped, hugged her, and said, “Honey, remember one thing: I have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me. We are more than our bodies. We are spirit, soul, life, and personality. We mustn’t ever forget that.”

Many of us need to measure life differently. Some need to live moment-by-moment, rather than looking back or too far ahead. I’m grateful for the entire journey.

God loves you, despite your deepest trials. I’m convinced that He sheds two tears for each one of ours. He’s like that, you know. He cares. And…He redeems it all.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#69 His Artistry Is Unparalleled

Photo by Ashely Brown, Shining Light Photography 

It is October now but the roses are still blooming. My dad always loved roses, and I can never remember a time when he didn’t have roses planted outside of our kitchen window so we could see them when we sat down to eat or talk at the kitchen table.

Dad is dying now, and I am his caregiver—trying to make this time as comfortable and peaceful as possible. I share his love of roses and have tended them in the months that I’ve been staying with my parents. I try to have a freshly cut rose in the house at all times, taking care to choose just the right one that he would think is the most beautiful.

Dad is getting worse, but he can still make it to the kitchen table. Yesterday, I cut the most beautiful coral rose in full bloom and put it in a crystal vase in front of him on the kitchen table. Even through his pain, his exhaustion, his shortness of breath—there it was . . . AWE! His eyes lit up and he said, “That doesn’t even look real!” For a moment, gone was the ugliness of the cancer, the chest tube, the pain. Forgotten… as he stared with the wonder of a child at the beautiful, perfect rose—God’s creation, God’s gift to him and to me.

A reminder to us that God is good and gives us beautiful, free gifts to enjoy. His artistry is unparalleled. If there is such beauty in this imperfect world, how much more beauty there will be in a perfect heaven. I thank God for the beautiful roses He created. I thank God for my dad and that I can be with him now. I thank God for heaven where there will be no pain, no tears, and unimaginable beauty. 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#48 A Medley Of Human Empathy

Photo by Nick Key Photography 

But it hit, for him, out of nowhere.

A healthy life, a wife, a little daughter, ministry, work.  God had always provided but this was nothing like the former.  It was the ordinary and unthinkable: cancer.  And over a matter of weeks a world that was common and nurturing plummeted into groggy confusion.  Normal disappeared.  It was just survival: shaking, feverish, cold.  But though life felt remote, heaven did not appear.  That escape seemed to brush reality with weightless fingers and then disappear into isolation.  For life did not remove disease and neither did disease remove life.

And that was what suffocated: the isolation.  No one could really comprehend the pain of it, the reality of being lost in lifelessness but still, oddly, alive.  Misunderstanding hit, maybe, harder than disease.  Explaining it was like trying to describe a dream where why and how and what were loosely dangling from everywhere but general comprehension.

There was also the experience of trying to fit a conversation about a life unmade but not hopeless within the tiny box called small talk.  They would ask how he was.  But the few seconds of “Hello, how are you?” weren’t enough to tell the truth and a white lie seemed conventionally non-transparent.  It caused him to feel other than himself.  It was tough to be truly honest in those situations.  You’d run the risk of sounding totally depressed on one hand or trite on the other.  And he was neither.

But there were those thousands of pieces, placed with divine intention, into life and into disease, just the same.

That was the beautiful thing.  People were influence for the heart of God, which is presence.  It was a real “with us” kind of emergence.  The un-shattering and unification of interconnected humanity.  There were tiny bits of God darting in through a reality of living compassion and kindness, each an easy passageway into rampant grace.  As each person embodied the real, the Real arose.  It was Jehovah shooting alive through lips and acts and living bodies.

Though the Father did, in the end, give health – this wasn’t the care that really struck.  A Provider was named and the name was “He Sees Me.”[1]  And his eyes were, somehow, human and many.

And, though she’d always been there, a woman emerged as rock.  She was embodying the vows of marriage even as he did – in cancer and in clarity, sickness and health.  The essential combining of the couple emerged in ways that had been, before, unseen.  The practicality – the behind the scenes of cancer – was cared for with loving kindness.  He was survivor, and she managed it all – the keeper of order, of life.  God was seen, through her dedication, as Destroyer of Chaos.

And a small girl emerged.  This was the joy!  The shining and small, curly haired toddler was his and she knew nothing other than true, glistening life.  Death and sorrow and pleasurelessness were not found within her own youth.  And so the beauty of child-like and beautiful ignorance danced to a beat different than pain and isolation.  She was a bright gift from the Immortal to temporal.  From Daddy to daddy the blessing was daughter.  And her laughter made life brilliant within the shadowed lair of cancer.  The Spirit of God glowed warm.

The impossible began to take place.  In a way, the wholeness was always there – the fragments were always together.  The pieces of kindness and understanding, laughter and practicality fit together into the shape of God.  The God who sees! The God who could be seen through created image working out his kindness.  Piece by piece the shattered leapt up and lived!  It became bright, a medley of human empathy beating out the presence of God.

[1] Genesis 16:13; El-roi

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.

#38. Ultimate Healing

Photo by Jeff Rogers Photography

Jeff has an unwavering faith and a deep love for God. A few years ago he lost his wife of over 20 years to cancer. As he talks of Sally, he smiles and tears fill his eyes. It is clear that he loved her very much.

Yet as I sat across from him at the Starbucks table, his joy and hope were palpable. Sally’s diagnosis had been a surprise. A petite woman, beautiful inside and out, curly hair, dimples, a zest for life, a dancer, and the picture of health. How could she possibly have had a stage four cancerous tumor the size of an orange on her ovary? Her treatment included surgery, then chemo, then radiation.

Right before Sally’s surgery, while Jeff was praying with a friend for her, he had a vision of Jesus walking down the hospital hallway holding Sally’s hand. She was a child, about five years old, and in a hospital gown, but Jeff knew it was Sally. This was such a comfort and reassurance—Jesus was with her.

The treatments appeared to have worked and Sally was better. During this time, God led Jeff and Sally to begin a healing ministry as part of a small Methodist church they were attending. God healed many people through their ministry. But Sally’s cancer came back and though many prayers for healing were prayed for her, she was not healed—at least not on earth. Instead, she received the ultimate healing—in a place of no death, no tears, and no pain.

Six months before her death, while Jeff was praying, he heard the Lord say, “Release her to me.” Jeff knew what this meant and he did release her, but he didn’t stop praying for her and he continued to praise God. Even in this sorrow, God gave Jeff great comfort and hope. The cancer spread to Sally’s liver and she passed quickly. It was a holy moment . . . at home with Jeff on one side and her sister on the other side, praying for Jesus to take her to Him. It happened only three days after their 20-year anniversary—a milestone that was so important to Sally because this was a second marriage for both of them.

In the months that followed, Jeff suffered great sadness, but God brought a kind couple, Matthew and Nancy, to Jeff to minister to him during his grief and brokenness. One night, Matthew, an ER physician, was speaking at a local church and asked Jeff, who is a photographer, to photograph the event. Matthew had been invited to speak by another ER physician, Missy. After the event, Matthew introduced Jeff to Missy. There was an immediate connection. Shortly after their first date, while in France, Jeff took a photo of two trees intertwined and sent it to Missy. He knew that it was God’s will for him to be with Missy. God had orchestrated their meeting and brought them together. Their marriage has been an incredible gift to both of them and they are both profoundly grateful to God. Missy had never been married and knows that if Jeff had not lost Sally, she would not have this gift. She loves Sally too, through Jeff, and can’t wait for the three of them to be in heaven together some day.

God is faithful; He brings good out of pain. He comforts and provides peace, hope, joy, and love.

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person. 

#26 God’s Healing And Peace

Photo by Nicole Tarpoff

 This story is about my friend, Bob (name changed for privacy). Bob worked hard all of his life, graduating as his high school valedictorian, then working to pay his way through college, pharmacy school, and dental school. And his hard work paid off. By his early 50s, Bob  was doing well financially, had a busy dental practice, a loving wife, good kids in college, and had suffered no major health issues throughout his lifetime.

That all changed in 2003, when his wife noticed a place on his back that didn’t look right. It turned out to be malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can be life-threatening. A surgeon removed the melanoma along with some lymph nodes. Afterwards, the doctor told Bob that the lymph nodes were not cancerous and that he had removed all of the cancer. The chance of recurrence of the cancer was only about 25 percent.

But Bob didn’t feel very relieved. He felt like up to that point in life, he had been in control, but after his cancer diagnosis he felt God was telling him, “You are not really in control.” Bob was baptized when he was 14 years old, but he was a worrier, and had always struggled with leaving things in God’s hands. As a man, he wanted to take care of himself and his family. The diagnosis of cancer was a wake-up call. He felt his dependence on God more strongly than ever before. 

He also found himself asking, “What is really important?” He had always wanted to teach, so he sold his dental practice and was hired as a full-time faculty member at a nearby dental school. Eight years later, against the odds, the melanoma recurred on Bob’s left lung. The surgery to remove the cancer from his lung was successful but it was very painful, as was his 10-week recovery.

In 2013, the doctor found another melanoma on Bob’s right lung. He went through the same painful surgery to remove the cancer from his right lung, but this time he went into renal failure in the hospital. Bob’s wife is a pharmacist and she noticed that the medications they were giving Bob could be causing the renal failure and demanded that the medications be changed. The medications were changed and his renal failure reversed. This time the recovery was even longer. But because Bob was a full-time university employee, he was able to take a three-month fully paid medical leave. Bob feels that God gave him the foresight to sell his dental practice and begin working at the university, as he would need the good benefits the university provided during his illness.

Two years later, in 2015, the cancer recurred in both lungs and his chest wall. Surgery was no longer an option and his oncologist suggested that he seek care at a cancer center. Bob’s daughter had gone to school with a fellow who was doing melanoma research at Duke. He had been Bob’s dental patient and his parents were good friends of Bob’s in high school. This fellow recommended a cancer doctor at Vanderbilt and Bob was able to get an appointment. The Vanderbilt doctor told Bob that they had discovered a treatment for advanced melanoma—immunotherapy—and that worked in 40 percent of the patients. The treatment cost $150,000 to $200,000 and Bob was the first patient whose insurance agreed to pay for it.

After the first three months of treatment, Bob’s cancer was shrinking; three months later it was shrinking further. Now the PET scan shows that Bob is cancer-free. When I hear Bob tell this story, I think of all of things that had to fall into place for Bob to now be cancer-free. 1) His wife noticed the place on his back and suggested he see a doctor. 2) His surgeries were successful and lymph nodes weren’t involved. 3) He sold his dental practice at a time when dental practices are hard to sell. 4) He got a full-time job at a dental school when that, too, was challenging without a specialty like orthodontics. 5) The job at the university provided Bob good insurance, paying for very expensive treatment, and provided paid sick leave that he wouldn’t have had as the owner of his own dental practice. 6) Bob’s wife, a pharmacist, noticed the medication problem causing the renal failure and demanded that it be changed. 7) Bob’s former dental patient was a melanoma researcher at Duke and knew the best physician in the nation to deal with advanced melanoma. 8) If Bob had presented at Vanderbilt only two years earlier with advanced melanoma they wouldn’t have discovered the treatment yet. 9) There was a 60 percent chance the immunotherapy wouldn’t work, but it did.

My friend Bob has been through a lot in the last 13 years, but he says he feels blessed. Bob is now at peace with whatever happens. He feels content and prepared for whatever God has planned for him. 

A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.